400 smiles a day
here's lookin' at you
(Smiles of 2008)

New Year's Eve, 2008
Look back in delight

My previous bulletin was rounded off with the picture, below, of Chief Sitting Bull and Little Running Bare of the Dinefwr Park Reservation - and I said then that the moment I saw the image in front of me in the field it reminded me of a shot from the world of entertainment, and the world of cartoons in particular...

Yes of course, Spike and Tyke from the crazy, wonderful world of Tom and Jerry. And here are a

couple of pictures from Llandeilo's annual Boxing Day meet. I was somewhat captivated with the image, below, of a young girl astride her dad's shoulders - watching folk astride the shoulders of horses, in a manner of speaking, riding past. Gee-up, Dad! And how about the picture, alongside, taken outside the Cawdor Hotel? Snow falling out of a clear blue sky. Santa's trail dust?


Alongside, another picture I was fortunate enough to have selected for the Western Mail's Postcard from Wales, entitled The Christmas spirit at Dinefwr Castle. In fact my working title for this work of art was...

Handily noticed atop Dinefwr Castle while on a reconnaissance mission
Picture sent in by Mr Rudolph of Lapland, North Pole

The thing is with my pictures, most of them only paint 500 words - the other 500 are hidden away behind the viewfinder. Now the way I see it is this: if you haven't done something silly with a traffic cone, then you haven't lived. And Mr Rudolph's red-nosed effort is a case in point...
     The story starts early morning June 4, 2008 ... for a change my walk takes me via Dinefwr Castle. As I enter the castle I see a traffic cone standing there on some steps. Odd, I remember thinking - then I notice that workmen have been resetting the steps and the cone is there as a warning. A perfectly logical thing to do. However, my mind begins to race. So I grab it and haul it up to the very top of the castle - which is, I am fairly certain, the highest point along the Towy Valley itself. They knew where to build their castles back then.
     Remembering that I suffer Captionitis, and that the rural areas of Wales, including the Towy Valley, experience many low-flying military flights, the two pictures below are meant to sum people's frustrations...

Oh yes, I duly returned the cone to its rightful place - and anyway, I didn't want somebody nicking my picture idea - and off I toddled along my walk.
     However, with the images just laying dormant there on the computer, and Christmas approaching, I began to reason that it needed updating, with a festive twist. Unfortunately, the cone had long gone.
     Now I am past the age of going around nicking traffic cones, so I actually borrowed one. All proper and above board. Indeed I said that I wanted it for a picture opportunity, but I didn't say quite what. Oh, and I bought a Christmas hat for the occasion. As a female of my acquaintance is wont to say: How old are you, Hubie?
Now getting the cone to the Castle was the problem. I didn't want to be seen carting it around, for rather obvious reasons, so I wrapped it all up -
not in Christmas wrapping paper I hasten to add - slung it over my shoulder and off to go. Now a cone isn't particularly heavy, just awkward. I never saw anyone on my way to the castle, or during the photo-shoot - but on my way home I did meet one fellow walking his dog. "It's not a body," I reassured him. "Is it a bird table?" he asked. Which I thought was an inspired guess.
     When I told him it was a traffic cone, he gave me a funny look, said "C'mon, boy!" to his dog - and hurried on his way.
     Finally, and in appreciation of my childish capper, here's a final festive shot looking out over the valley. The dot on the horizon, just to the right of the cone, is Paxton's Tower. And down there on the valley floor, rising gently, with the morning sun just about catching it, is Dryslwyn Castle.
Happy New Year to one and all.



14th December, 2008
The bird and the beast and me (and camera)

Earlier this year, on July 13, in a bulletin headlined Sex and the City v Sex and the Country, I report an incident where, along my regular walk on the wild side, I come upon some really wild sex - a steer furiously having it away with the river bank. The moment is captured for posterity, and is repeated below ...

... the caption back then was "... yes ... yes ... YES ... Yes!" - and the bullock in the middle-background is muttering: "I'll have whatever he's having."
But as I pointed out then:
believe nothing you hear, only half what you see. While the picture is absolutely genuine, everything is not quite what it seems. In fact there's a dramatic tale behind the image. But before coming to that, and unbelievably on the very same morning, I stumble upon a bird in distress.
     As usual there are lots of birds about, and below I capture some of them - sand martins, I think - but I'm no expert as my brain is already chock-a-block and truth to tell it needs extra RAM to cope with it all. However, like all the domestic and wildlife creatures I encounter, the birds get used to my presence without undue alarm.
     However, I notice a bird flapping frantically on a fence ... as I get closer it flaps even wilder. The little bird has clearly got its foot trapped in the fence. Below are some images, rather alarming, of what is a clearly distressed young bird struggling to free itself.

As I realise what has happened my heart begins to pound a wee bit faster. I hate to see anything suffer. In a freaky incident its little foot has become wedged in a gap between the twisted barbed wire. As always happens, the more it pulls to free itself, the tighter it becomes wedged. As I move closer it quite naturally begins to panic and flap even wilder. I approach warily ... then, just as I am about to gently grab it to try and free it - it manages to free itself, and off it shoots. I watch it disappear, seemingly none the worst for wear.

Magnifying the pictures, especially the first one above, its leg seems okay, if a little raw. So a satisfying conclusion to the episode. Oh yes, the other thing that registered is this: as I approached the bird, I remember two other birds flying around and pretty much clipping my head as I neared ... I can only presume that these were its parents showing natural parental concern.
     Before I move on, I thought I'd revisit a light-hearted shot of some other birds I rescued a good few moons ago. This is one of a series of pictures I took, again around the same location as above, of items washed up on the
fields following a flood in the Towy Valley. Just some of the more unusual and novel and colourful things littering the field.
     And here's another extraordinary little story. The sister of a friend sent me the two images below. To join up the dots, first: she and her husband live on a farm fairly locally, and from spring through summer they keep the window of an upstairs, unused bedroom, slightly ajar for some air to circulate. Because it's a spare room it's one they hardly ever go into, then one day Anne, the lady of the house, checks out the room...

...and is gobsmacked to find a swallow has nested on top of the wardrobe and raising a brood. Having empathy with nature the couple never dream of chucking them out, and so, despite the mess - which can be cleaned up - they are allowed to stay. They then go about trying to photograph them without disturbing or frightening off the parent birds. This explains the rather inferior technical quality of the shots. But the obvious point is that this matters not a jot because both images paint a delightful story. Follow that, Bill Oddie.
     And now back to the sexy beast featured at the top. On that morning walk I hear a huge crash, followed by a loud bellow. I look round and guess what has happened. I hurry to the river's edge, where the bank is being undermined and eroded on a series of S-bends - the river is slowly but surely changing course as it washes away the field. As I suspect, the bank has collapsed under the weight of a bullock and it has fallen into the river.

Normally cattle are ultra wary of collapsing river banks. You can see from their tracks along the bank that they keep a fair distance between themselves and the river. However, as the bank washes away it has taken a section of fencing with it, and if there's one thing all domestic farm animals just can't resist, it's a gap in a fence - and through they go, just like a rugby centre making a break to score a try. The first photo above is one I captured a while later of another bullock also making a break for it - this one was lucky, whereas the bank had collapsed in that very spot under the original bullock - and there is the unfortunate beast, looking confused - and you can clearly see the freshly disturbed bank and the troubled water in the river.

Now the first thing it tries to do is climb back the way it came, as you can see from the above shot. This struggle goes on for a while until he is truly shagged out, so to speak, from the sheer physical effort - hence the "making- love to the river bank" picture at the top. In the meantime its bellowing and distress - just like the little bird - draws the attention of other cattle which come to investigate. After much hassle it then wanders into the river...

...and it moves upstream where a ditch runs into the river - and the bullock has the survival instinct to head for it - and the other cattle gather around to watch proceedings as the struggle goes on. Now what is fascinating about this whole episode is how alarmed the other cattle become. They appear to share the animal's distress. But as soon as the beast is out and safe the others rapidly loose interest and move away.

"I dunno about you guys - but I'm outta here!"

Chief Sitting Bull and Little Running Bare, Dinefwr Park

As I've said before, if you want to understand human behaviour, observe nature up close. You know what we humans are like when we pass a road accident - we slow down and rubberneck. I think it's something to do with concern more than anything. Is there something we can do to help? This is well documented in war situations, and indeed during tragedies such as 9/11, where people display extraordinary bravery to help others.
     Okay, the other cattle can't help the poor thing down there in the water, but I was astonished at how concerned they appeared to be with its fate. Perhaps they were able to offer some sort of encouragement or moral support in its fight for survival. Who knows, but it's endlessly interesting.
     And just imagine, the bird and the beast, all in one morning.
Finally, to lighten things up again, another photograph of mine published in the Western Mail, which once more drew great reaction. Apart from it being a marvellous shot, folk were quite taken with the caption, as accompanied the Postcard from Wales picture in the paper. But I tell you what, in my previous bulletin - view it directly below - I did the photo of the sheep and the cattle, which had been subliminally prompted by a promotional shot of a TV series about a male voice choir fronted by a female.
     Well now, the moment I saw Chief Sitting Bull and Little Running Bare in front of me, it instantly reminded me of a shot from the world of entertainment. Does it work for you? A clue, it's from the cartoon world ...
     I'll show you that particular image next time out.

30th November, 2008
Diptyching and triptyching the night away

The image just below is a promotional shot lifted off one of our local papers, the Carmarthen Journal, and it advertises an award-winning drama series shown on the Welsh language television channel, S4C. Con Passionate (with passion), written by Siwan Jones and starring Shân Cothi, from nearby Ffarmers, revolves around the turbulent love lives of Côr Meibion Gwili, a Welsh male voice choir. Shân, below, plays its Romany-ish-looking conductor.

     Now I've never watched the series (no reflection because I never seem to have time to watch these things), but I'm told it's rather good with lots of hanky-panky added to taste. Now along my regular morning walk I pass through a few farms – thankfully the farmers see me as an extra pair of eyes rather than a nuisance. I think! Anyway, all the stock is now pretty familiar with my presence and occasionally follow me across the fields. One morning I’m aware of a herd of bullocks behind me, and every time I stop, they stop. Must have a picture, I remember thinking, as they remind me of a male voice choir standing there, watching my every move.
     And then, stage right, enter a sheep, all nonchalant. Click! Click! Halfway across the line of bullocks she stops, turns briefly to face me ... click! ... before seemingly giving a quick shrug, and continuing her journey to exit stage left. Thankfully the shot was in sharp focus, my amusement compounded because the picture irresistibly reminds me of the image alongside.
I call it Con Passionate down on Animal Farm, Towy Valley. The Western Mail published the picture in their daily Postcard From Wales slot - and I've never had such a reaction to one of my photographs. Which is very satisfying because it is a super-smiley shot.
     People ask how I got them all to look straight into the camera. Well, I always talk to the animals - and as I've said before, they never answer back - but they get used to my voice, so I just shouted at them: "Oi! Look at me when I'm talking to you!" And it worked a treat.
Cast an eye at the ground, just behind the big black bullock ... they’re not grazing, just watching my every move. But they have a short attention span.
I've also had some smashing responses: "You wait till Shân Cothi gets hold of you!"; and a farmer who recognised the animals and also follows the TV series: "If the sex lives of those boyos in the choir is anything to go by, then bullocks they ain't!". I rather like that.
     The other comment I've received, understandably, is this: "You must have superimposed that sheep." Well now, m
y number one rule with my photographs is that there is no digital manipulation of images - outside of what is reasonably possible to make the image look better, such as cropping, contrast, removing a mark which distracts... Adding something which wasn't there is not so much fooling you, but myself. Below, three images that led to the above.

Recently over on Look You, under the heading Letter Wot I Wrote to Rupert, I shared with you a missive I'd submitted to The Times apropos the official portrait released for Prince Charles' 60th birthday, and in particular regarding Frederick Burnaby, the 19th-century Army officer whose laid-back portrait inspired the Price Charles portrait. To recap: “Sir, Captain Frederick Burnaby (news, Nov 14) sounds like a man I would have enjoyed sharing a pint and a chat with down at my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon, especially as he reputedly once carried a pony under one arm. You see, I once carried a steer under one arm..."
     Said with tongue in cheek, yet based on truth. Here, alongside, a photo from the Crazy Horse Saloon archive (before it graduated with honours to become the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, obviously), of a newly born Friesian calf. What makes it so different is how incredibly small it is. Now there are small breeds of cattle, just like there are small dogs, horses and indeed people, but Freisians are quite large beasts. Note the size of the calf compared to the sheepdog; also that it is being fed by bottle, as you would a lamb. It's a wonderful little thing - and easy to carry under one arm. See, many a true word spoken in jest.
     The calf went on to grow into the huge beast shown below - while the handsome young lad on the right, holding said baby calf, grew up to be the hunk shown below, right...

No it didn't, obviously, as you can tell from the markings - the calf, that is! The beast above was all over the media back in May, and it is of course Chilli, a Friesian steer, believed to be the tallest bovine in Britain. He stands at 6ft 6in from the floor to the top of his shoulder - and that's tall.
     Home for Chilli is the Ferne Animal Sanctuary in Chard, Somerset, which is why he has been "allowed" to grow to such a ripe old age and size. A farmer abandoned him on the Sanctuary's doorstep in September 1999, when he was just six days old. As the photograph suggests, and confirmed by Naomi Clarke, care manager at the sanctuary, he's "very friendly and gentle".
Just like that other fella, directly above, who just about doesn't need to be kept on a red halter. Which brings me back to that original line about Captain Frederick Burnaby carrying a pony under one arm, which was apparently true, but he was actually carrying a small breed of horse - and the other day from Australia, we had these astonishing shots, below, of Sam Leith, 12, pictured with a foal, the smallest horse to be born at Riverdance Miniature Horses in Victoria, Australia - which stands just 15in (3.3 hands) high.
     Horses are measured in hands - 4in - from the ground to their withers (base of neck), and this one is unlikely to grow taller than 6 hands (24in).

Delightful images. According to Guinness World Records, the smallest fully grown horse - Thumbelina - stands at just over 4 hands. In comparison, the world's tallest living horse - Radar, who is just short of 20 hands - is found in Texas. Hm, they do say that everything's bigger in Texas. Whereas Thumbelina eats two cups of grain and a handful of hay each day, Radar eats 18lb of grain and drinks 20 gallons of water each day. And here they are, below. Astonishing.

But even more striking, pictured alongside, the long and the short in human terms: Mr Xishun, 56, just under 8ft, and Mr Ping Ping, 19, a modest 30 inches. Both are from Inner Mongolia, although neither, believe it or don't, are current record holders. I can't begin to think what a high-five between them would be like.
     A letter in The Times from Andy Waters, Bideford, Devon, had noticed  that the tallest horse is approximately 4.7 times the height of the world's smallest. He had also noticed that the current tallest human being, at 8ft 11in, was similarly about 4.7 times larger than the shortest, at 23 inches, and wondered if this correlation of extremes exist anywhere else in the animal world.
     Responding, Martin Waters (relation?), Felpham, W. Sussex, believed Andy Namesake had unwittingly discovered the universal constant. The length of his leg (37in) is exactly 4.7 times the length of his hand (7.9in), and the circumference of his head (23in), when multiplied by 4.7, equals exactly the height of his porch (9ft). Very droll. And in these recessionary times, Martin Waters pondered, perhaps 4.7 is the new 42 - 42 being the answer, as you will recall, to life, the universe and everything. Well now, this called for a...
Letter Wot I Wrote to Rupert
"The meaning of life? (Muddying the Waters): Sir, How exciting, 4.7 is the new 42 (letters, Nov 27 & 29). As I speak I am looking at a photo of Boo Boo the Toy Chihuahua, the shortest dog in the world at 10.16cm, looking up at Gibson the Great Dane, the tallest dog in the world at ... er ... 107cm. Bugger! Perhaps it doesn't work in metric."
     Normally on this site I try to stick to just my own images, but I found these extreme sizes so extraordinary that they are worth sharing. Hope you agree.

9th November, 2008
Lady Chatelaine's Lover
(with images of Autumn thrown in)

No Spring, nor Summer beauty hath such grace,
As I have seen in one Autumnal face
                                                                                                          John Donne, 1573-1631

It is autumn in West Wales, underwritten spectacularly by this shot, above, where I perfectly capture the reflective lake of Dinefwr Park, famous for the 20/20 purity of its reflection. And thereby hangs a wonderful tale of sex and intrigue in the community. Come with me on a journey down memory lane, back through the

generations, when the Park and surrounding area was owned and ruled over by the Lord of Newton House and Dinefwr Park. The Dinefwr estate was famous even back then for its White Park Cattle, seen here, alongside, in relaxevous mode in front of Newton House. But, as always happens, sex came a-knocking.
     One of the estate workers, Thomas Jones - Tom, to the Lord, Twm (the Welsh version), to friends and colleagues - was also a tenant farmer under the Lord. Twm had a bit of an eye for the ladies, even those blessed with a capital 'L'; unfortunately, he was not so much caught in flagrante delicto (hanky-panky to thee and me) with the Lady of the Manor - but unforgivably boasted about it to his fellow workers. Even worse, he claimed that he'd hanky-pankied with her on a couple of occasions - and from that day forth he was known around the estate and community as Twm Twice. Unsurprisingly, the news got back to the Lord.
     Now the ruling classes have a different approach to sex and fidelity compared to the way the rest of society handle it. Once the Lady of the Manor has provided the Lord with a male heir apparent, not many questions are then asked about what goes on between the sheets - think Charles, Diana and Camilla - but absolute discretion is the unwritten rule of engagement.
     So Twm Twice had let himself, the good Lady, not to mention his master and landlord, down badly. But the ruling classes also have a civilised way of dealing

with such things - no pistols at dawn in these 'ere parts - so the Lord gave Tom an ultimatum ... As a first-time tenant farmer, and a respected and reliable worker at that, the Lord had helped establish Tom as a modest farmer, by selling him six of the famous White Park Cattle, at a knock down price.
     So the Lord made it clear to Tom that by the following Monday morning he wanted to see 12 White Park Cattle presented in front of him. Now the Lord was the only person who owned such cattle in the immediate area, although Tom could buy them outside the area - assuming he had the money, which the Lord doubted anyway - but crucially he couldn't see how Tom would possibly get them back to the Park in time (no transport back then mind, stock had to be walked, hence the term 'drovers'). If he could not satisfy the Lord, then his tenancy and service would be terminated. In truth, a heads I win tails you loose, kind of challenge.
     Come the Monday morning and the Lord arrives to inspect Tom's stock - and Tom leads him to where the picture of the lake, above top, was taken.
     "You wanted to see 12 cattle, my Lord? Well, Sir, look ahead, and there you will see 12 White Park Cattle..." Alongside, a picture I took a few moons ago of, by a curious coincidence, six White Park Cattle - or 12 if you already have a soft spot for Twm Twice. The Lord knew that he had been trumped by the purity of the lake's reflection. But the Lord's word was his bond. He extended his hand and shook Twm's hand. "Betray my trust again, Tom," said the Lord, "and superior footwork will not save you next time..." Life at Newton House returned to a sort of normality. And Twm Twice counted to ten whenever the urge came a-calling. Or 20, when passing the reflective lake of old Dinefwr Park!

For that delightful tale I have to thank Wyn Davies, farm manager at Dinefwr Park (now owned by the National Trust). I'm unsure whether I got the fine details correct, but the spine of the tale remains intact. Diolch, Wyn, great story, especially as I've managed to back it up with the above image. Bendigedig!
     Meanwhile, back with autumn, the other Sunday evening I happened upon BBC's Stephen Fry in America series, and the autumn colours were astonishing.
     In Penlan Park, Llandeilo,  there’s a maple tree, and do you know, seeing it here, alongside, in isolation against our own autumn backdrop makes it, in its own little way, as dramatic and as beautiful as anything in New England. It overlooks the village of Ffairfach.
     Their advantage over there, the other side of the Atlantic, of course, is that while the Penlan colours had all blown away following a bit of a stormy night, North America has millions of others lining up to do their duty and fill the breach.
     Mind you, I still think that our
bluebells in spring is every bit as stunning and memorable as the maples in fall over in America.
     So I call this eye-catching image...

One maple in Old Wales paints as pretty a picture as a thousand in New England

     Meanwhile, back on the ranch, another day at school, and I learn that two pictures (or paintings or panels), which sit naturally side by side, is called a diptych - a really curious little word, this, as odd as oligarch - and a set of three is a triptych. Well now, this autumn I've noticed that the hawthorn trees are weighed down with berries, which in turn brings to mind a saying the older cowpokes down at the old Crazy Horsepower Saloon regularly chuck into the ring...

When Hawthorn slaps on the old lipstick,
Before you cwtch, a log on the fire should do the trick.

Meaning, a mass of berries herald a cold winter, nature looking after its own, sort of thing - so if you fancy getting romantic in front of a roaring fire this winter, get the firewood in now - but I guess the statistics pooh-pooh that, although I’m sure I read a couple of months back something about a colder than usual winter. And waxwings are already flooding the UK. Hm! We'll see. In the meantime, a diptych in the flesh, and a berry, berry good example, so to speak...

I had this spring picture, entitled Horses, hawthorn and history in the Towy Valley, published in the Western Mail. The horses just happened to be hanging about there. Now you can't imagine the hassle and joy I had trying to get my pals the gee-gees to stand there for the autumn shot, captured just the other day. Well worth it, though. However, as I chatted away to the horses, the way you do, a robin landed in the tree and sat there watching me with a really curious eye...


Look, shouldn't I be called Robin Amber-Breast?

Finally, rather taken with all this diptych stuff, below a couple of shots taken where a crop of maize has been planted and harvested. The first shot was taken in May, the maize just established...

The second, taken about a week ago, from the same place, shortly after the crop had been harvested - but what I like about this image is that it sums up perfectly the disastrous harvesting weather the farmers have had to put up with this year. Not so much Singin' in the Rain, more Squelchin' in the Monsoon. But it all adds to nature's Cinemascopic, Technicolor autumn. Enjoy, while it lasts. See you soon...

19th October, 2008

Sheeps that pass in the night

First things first. Now how did that sentence finish?

"Excuse me officer, but..." My thoughts on this curious image coming up shortly...

In the meantime, some of the more offbeat images that tickled my imagination during the World Sheepdog Trials at Llandeilo's Dinefwr Park and Castle.

The participants are all dolled up - we've had our September parade led by Shenkin the goat - so let's party.

The Swedish flag and a bit of a breeze captured in a Llandeilo street light ... a sudden gust produces a delightfully surreal effect.

All the flags of the competing nations line the road to Newton House - Dinefwr Castle peeps over the horizon - and the police put out their welcoming flags.

"Honestly, we're the star attractions around here and just look - they won't even allow us to watch the action. So much for their 'Leader of the Pack' swagger."

Waiting for the mist to clear ... cobwebs and sheep ... caught both in and out of focus.

A certain female visitor, featured in previous bulletins, deserves a curtain call - or perhaps more correctly, her eye-catching little sheepish pal does. I was also drawn to those droplets of dew hanging off the railing where she is resting her arms - and thought they deserved a shot all of their own.

I was fascinated following this female competitor on her way to the park - and later caught sight of her again at the final parade. She looked so elegant I thought, hm, must be Italian - we know how Italians look good in anything - but realised that the flag was Dutch. She won my "Most Elegant Competitor" award.

Where would we be without all those who freely give of their time to organise, run and steward these things. If everyone was like me we'd all still be living in caves, so I doff my hat to each and every one of them. And the gent? Dunno. But I'll tell you what, I'm going to get myself a shepherd's crook, especially if these are the delightful sort of things you manage to pull with it! Alongside, above, one of my favourite shots from the trials. Not so much Tom the dog and Delilah the sheep (that's the one looking into the camera) but the gloriously green, green grass of home backdrop. Lovely, look you!

So there we are, the party's over, the sheeps have passed in the night, the boys have had their night on the tiles, above left, and are looking a wee bit the worst for wear. But hang on, I think old Nogood Ramboyo, looking all laid-back up there, has fallen for the charms of the seductive babe, above right. And why not?

Finally, the caption:
"Excuse me officer ... but some geezer's gone and nicked me front wheels."

Actually, above is the complete unit. I vaguely recall this tractor arriving on the agricultural scene. It was pretty much the first four-wheeled drive tractor - actually two individual units fitted together - but in truth suitable only for the generous and arable flatlands of Lincolnshire, Norfolk and suchlike.

Well, that's more or less it. There are a couple more items loosely connected with the trials, but I'll revisit those somewhere further down the line.


What's the use of worrying?
It never was worth while,
So, pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile.
                                                                          George H Powell, 1880-1951
                                                                                                Pack up your Troubles in your old Kit-Bag (1915)

This is a wee celebration of World Smile Day, as detailed over on Look You. A diversion from the sheepdog trials, but I'll stick with the theme of dogs. On the first day of the trials, when it was all wet and miserable and vehicles had to be pulled out of the fields, I stumbled upon the situation below...

Ready when you are, Samson

Okay Samson - PULL!

Now I know that collies are incredibly clever dogs, but how about that? Amazing. But you ain't seen nothing yet. Spot is my brother's dog, a working sheepdog, a lovely, beautifully natured dog - and he loves to play ball. Any sort of ball. But especially a rugby ball. He enjoys the 'high ball', the 'up-and-under' - see the ball at the very top of the first image, below...

Spot is the JPR Williams of canine rugby, a dog born to play fullback. He never takes his eyes off those high balls, and I've never known him drop one. Spot is a natural-born entertainer. And he will play and play and play until he is totally knackered. Spot the star.
     Finally, and keeping it in the family, the other day cousin Geoff brought his pooch Thingumabob into the Crazy Horsepower Saloon Bar. Again, a delightfully friendly and charismatic little thing, with a trick up its tail...

On your marks ... get set ...

Go ... chase your tail!

So there we go, Thingumabob's party trick brings the
World Smile Day diversion to an end. Be sure to check out What a gas, above...
More offbeat images from the sheepdog trials returning soon...

1st October, 2008

Come by

With the Land Rover World Sheepdog Trials at Llandeilo's Dinefwr Park and Castle well under way, some more images from September 11-14th. First up, another shop window display, this time In Stitches, the town's wool shop - what else? - specialising in all things to do with needle and thread and stitch and sew... Love those bundles of sheep and lambs - but the real things, alongside, are just beginning to cultivate that cheesed-off look, what with being chased about all the time.

In Stitches brings to mind a couple of things. My mother insisted I ignore fashion and just wear whatever I feel comfortable in - just make sure that what I wear is clean, fresh and well aired, with no holes surplus to manufacturer specification. Sound advice, especially in these credit-crunch times. Secondly, the following grand epitaph...

Here lies a poor woman who was always tired,
She lived in a house where help wasn't hired;
Her last words on earth were: "Dear friends, I am going
To where there's no cooking, or washing, or sewing,
For everything there is exact to my wishes,
For where they don't eat there's no washing of dishes.
I'll be where loud anthems will always be ringing,
But having no voice I'll be quit of the singing.
Don't mourn for me now, don't mourn for me never,
I am going to do nothing for ever and ever."
                                                                                                                     On a Tired Housewife, Anonymous

While watching one woman and her dog doing a run, I overhear a man in front of me announce the following rather loudly into his mobile: "The next runner is that tall, handsome German lady." My eyes drift to the female competitor sat on a trailer hitch just ahead of me. My eyes flick back to the woman currently on the course: 371. "Excuse me," I say rather hesitatingly to 372, sat in front of me, unsure what her command of English is, "did you happen to hear that?" She smiles and nods and speaks perfect English. 'She' is Anne Krüger, and her dog Luke.

Above, I capture Anne watching 371 and her dog doing their thing ... I love the relationship between handler and dog, captured perfectly here. On the right, with eyes closed, mind in neutral, she composes herself for the task at hand, while Luke decides to cast an eye over the competition.

Spectators watch, spellbound, while alongside, a television outside broadcast unit captures the action with a view to a much wider audience.

Sunday, and it's finals day. Before the action starts a brief religious service is held at the gates to Newton House. Alongside, a foreign visitor listens to the service over the PA system and is lost, deep in thought.  

A spectator puzzles over the final sixteen that will contest the trophy. Only one female makes the cut, Karin Mattsson, representing Norway. Alongside, above, the Four Just Men and True who will sit in judgment and award those curious Merit Points that no one seems to be able to explain to satisfaction.

      Meanwhile, I promised to revisit Aidan Gallagher of Ireland, who helped me photograph his dog Cain, which featured in my previous report. Below, after his final run, he is interviewed by Dai Jones, one of our great Welsh TV characters. Alongside, Aidan with Newton House as a backdrop. Tell you what, Aidan, I'd make them an offer they can't refuse! You look very much at home in front of that grand pile.

Below, the exceptionally talented 22-year-old Karin Mattsson, together with the proud man and two dogs in her life. She not only won the World Champion Female Handler with her dog Sammie, but finished seventh overall. In fact she ran both dogs in the semis – quite an achievement in itself.

Featured in the above image is a specially commissioned painting of Newton House by local artist Andrew Evans, presented to Karin as the Highest Placed Female Handler, by Clwb Cinio Cymraeg, Llandeilo. Perhaps if there had been a female or two on that panel of four who sat in judgment and awarded those curiouser and curiouser merit points which determined the final positions, she may well have finished higher. But hey, I admit to being a natural-born cynic. Be that as it may, when Karin posed for photographs she planted the Norwegian flag one side and the Swedish flag the other – she is actually a Swedish girl currently living in Norway, even though Sweden was taking part. Just imagine if a Welsh girl now living in England had decided to represent England rather than Wales, and had planted both flags either side for the official photographs. My goodness me, it would have kept the Letters pages of our newspapers busy until Christmas.
     Incidentally, above right, on the Monday after, I pay a return visit to Igam-Ogam ... and the flags in the window have been rearranged. Aled Owen and his dog Roy take the gold by just one point from Ron Snoeck and Nell from the Netherlands, with bronze going to Scotland's Stuart Davidson with Jim. The flags reflect the positions as per the winner's podium, with the flags of all the other nations peering up admiringly.

I walk into my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon on the Sunday evening - and startled by the bar snack on offer (above left). Me, I think I'd prefer a straight-forward hot dog. Good joke though. On a damp and miserable and gloomy Monday morning I walk the empty course in front of Newton House and stumble upon the winner's podium, still in place, with a bottle of Bucks Fizz as testament to the celebrations of the previous evening.
     That said, there is a curiously empty feeling all around. After the Lord Mayor's show, sort of thing.

One further bulletin of the more offbeat moments and images coming up shortly ~
in the meantime, ponder the following photograph - and what you would tell the nice policeman...
"Excuse me officer, but..."

22nd September, 2008

Trials and errors
The gloomy weather that greets the welcoming parade of the Land Rover World Sheepdog Trials at Llandeilo's Dinefwr Park and Castle perfectly reflects our shockingly damp and gloomy summer. Right on cue it rains cats and sheepdogs. Now you understand why I regularly refer to my square mile as Llandampness. But the welcome is warm, the locals turn out in force to greet our guests - and they in turn put on a show of force. It certainly looked as if all the triallists and their dogs had appeared out en bloc. I've never seen so many handsome collies in one place.
     The town itself had put out the flags, with the shops decorating their windows with style and humour. Perhaps the most eye-catching is IGAM-OGAM. First things first, Igam-Ogam means Zigzag - a rather catchy name for a shop - and the words underneath invite you to "Come and celebrate". How can you resist? The idea of putting the flags of each nation in the window is rather neat, especially adding the word "Welcome" in many tongues.

Mention of shops and businesses doing their thing, regular visitors to this little scrapbook of mine will now be aware that one of my favourite shop windows is Fountain Fine Art. The displays always tickle my i-spot (imagination). Below, a couple of topical paintings by Esther Tyson, the sheep by Sallie Wakley.

The sheep used in the trials - a somewhat essential ingredient in the mix - a flock of Brecon Hill/Cheviot, and delivered in fine, eye-catching fettle by Nigel Watkins and Janet of Pant Howell Farm in nearby Llanddeusant, do a bit of sightseeing, below, before their call to arms and coming under starter's orders ... make a mental note of the distinctively marked face of the sheep in the pen, to the right, near the first fence post.

Directly below, the very first competitor to run, W Goligher of Ireland with dog Tam, awaits the off. In the second image below, I catch handlers and their dogs hurrying along the approach road to Dinefwr Park - and in that picture, I am fairly sure, lies an extraordinary coincidence.

On the first day of the trials, while looking for something unusual, I take some shots of two people with their dogs, above right, walking between the flags. Something different. Well now, on the Saturday morning, after the mist has risen, I pay a visit to Dinefwr Castle, and while there get into conversation with a pleasant Canadian lady. I particularly remember her telling me how expensive it had been to fly her two dogs over - three thousand Canadian dollars. Anyway, looking through my pictures, I am convinced that by an amazing coincidence, she is the lady in the above shot. And, believe it or not, approaching the Canadian flag. Sadly, it was taken in poor conditions on a long zoom, and the quality doesn't allow me to enlarge the photo to identify her. As it happens, I gave her my card, so - and I presume you must be Ms F Robertson - if you do visit my scrapbook and you recognise yourself, I'd love to know. (Contact Me) Later that Saturday I attempt to photograph a particular sheepdog, without much luck. Its owner, spotting me getting nowhere fast, kindly calls the dog to order. I then show him why I'd wanted to photograph his dog - I'd registered a distinctively marked sheep in the shot of the penned flock (above), about halfway up the picture, on the right, and then taken some close-ups due to its eye-catching markings, excuse the pun. Quite striking, you must admit. I duly ask the dog owner his name - as well as that of his dog: "Aidan Gallagher, from Co Antrim - and that's Cain - as in Cain and Abel." The next day I realise that I've been talking to one of the leading lights on the trialling circuit, indeed, he is leading into the finals day with his dog, Bill. However, if Cain ever reaches the top, he really will be Cain and Able. In my next bulletin I shall show a couple more shots of Aidan in appreciation of his empathy with my original predicament.

Meet Cain and Bolshie.
 Well, it is the sworn duty of every sheep to be as obstreperous as creature discomforts allow.

On both the Friday and Saturday mornings the mist cum fog envelopes everything and delays proceedings. Better than the rain though. The lady below, left, is undoubtedly doing a quick GPS check to establish precisely where she is (good looking lady, handsome dog). Meanwhile, on the right, out of the fog appears Kerstin Schwarze, a German lady, currently living in Wales. Not a competitor this time around ... 2011, perhaps? Go for it, Kerstin.

Below, waiting for the fog to lift, a Scottish gent sums up all you need to know about life, the universe and everything: one man and his dogs and his pipe and his Land Rover. CONTENTMENT, writ large. Alongside, having been eliminated in the qualifiers, on the Saturday he and his soul mates enjoy some R & R.

As I have mentioned before in dispatches, I would make a totally useless photojournalist because as soon as I get into conversation with strangers I never think to ask "How are you? ... Who are you? ... Where are you from? ... What do you do? ..." Apologies to everyone I am unable to identify by name.

That's not quite all, Folks! Another bulletin coming up as soon as I have gathered my thoughts...

10th September, 2008

Only Winners Allowed!

Better late than never...Having been distracted by the Olympics I'm a tad late getting around to congratulating Only Men Aloud! for being the BBC's Last Choir Standing. Especially as the choir boasts a local lad, one Tom Jones, no less - and there he is, on the right of the front two featured in the BBC promotional shot below - and not a pair of knickers in sight. Tom and the lads certainly worked their magic on the nation. Wonderful. I was pleasantly surprised at the popularity of the series - the penultimate round featured at Number 14 in the most watched TV programmes (all channels) for that week.

     Even though I remember - and appreciated - the arrival of Elvis Presley, I enjoyed the Ray Conniff Orchestra and Singers (never hear them nowadays, except occasionally on Radio Wales' String of Pearls). Conniff was, I'm fairly sure, the man who first introduced swing into popular choir singing.
    In the early Elvis records listen out for the glorious backing harmony, which is most seductive on the ear. Meaning, Elvis had brilliantly bridged the gap between the traditional harmony groups of that time - Platters, Andrews Sisters, Mills Brothers - and his revolutionary style of singing. Once established, that backing group quickly faded away.
     Oh yes, I really enjoyed Ysgol Glanaethwy, probably because I can link their sound and style back to the Ray Conniff Singers.

     And hey, everyone on the show eventually pronounced Ysgol Glanaethwy properly - or as near as makes no difference! How wonderful is that. Anyway, sticking with winners, over on www.lookyou.co.uk I pointed out how Nicole Cooke had captured my imagination - not just winning that first all-important gold, along with her delightful smile - but what a perfect ambassador she is turning out to be, not only for her family, community and sport, but also her country. However, last Monday at the Paralympics, another young lady worked her magic on me.

Eleanor Simmonds, the 13-year-old, became GB's youngest individual Paralympic gold medal-winner with a surprise victory in the 100 metres freestyle, coming from behind to beat Mirjam de Koning-Peper, the 39-year-old  Holland swimmer. "I was not expecting that, I can't believe you are calling me a Paralympic champion," Simmonds, who was born with achondroplasia, or dwarfism, said in a welter of roller-coaster emotion. "I had a dream about it last night. But in my dream I only got silver."
     Unsure whether to laugh or cry, and deploying a huge towel to wipe away her tears, she then brilliantly anticipated the interviewer's next clichéd question with one of the great quotes: "You can probably tell that I'm really happy." A truly memorable and smiley moment.
     On the same day that the Western Mail reported her success, its back page carried a major story about Wales footballer Paul Parry throwing all his toys out of the pram by walking out on Wales in their hour of need in quite one of the most petulant and extraordinary acts witnessed from a Welsh sports star. And all because he hadn't featured in Wales's game against Azerbaijan last Saturday - but had already been selected to start against Russia tonight. I suspect a pushy and overbearing parent.

The more I watch brave souls like Eleanor - not to mention all the other Paralympians - the more I think that all we able-bodies should hang our heads in shame when we complain about the trivial things of life. During the Paralympic opening ceremony the commentary delivered a startling little statement: "All around the world there are millions of people right now watching this ceremony - and they have no idea that in four, or perhaps eight years time, they may well be qualified to perform at the Paralympics." Indeed, we are just an accident or a sudden illness away from such life-changing moments.
     Oh yes, Eleanor Simmonds was born in Walsall but her parents moved down to Swansea so that she could take advantage of a specialist swimming coach, Billy Pye. And training six days a week. How proud must her family be? Incidentally, her main event, the 400 metres, is coming up next Sunday. You go, girl.

22nd August, 2008

"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door.

                                       Walter De La Mare

Last Sunday morning, the 17th August, I set off on my usual morning walk - a dry, brightish and rather pleasant early morning amidst this desperately wet August we're having - and there, ahead of me, slowly setting, the full moon, partly covered by some high cloud. The picture - alongside, and I think that's an aircraft heading for Heathrow just passing across the bottom part of the moon - is not particularly sharp because it is not long since daylight broke, obviously, but the image caught my eye simply because it was hanging there, just above Paxton's Tower, Llanarthne - or Paxton's Folly, as it's often referred to (and featured in the recent piece about my balloon flight).

     It's a Neo-Gothic folly, erected in honour of Lord Nelson, and built by one William Paxton circa 1806-1809. Paxton may have been inspired to build the tower by Nelson's death at Trafalgar. It is believed that whilst holding the office of Mayor of Carmarthen he may well have met Nelson in person. Marble tablets dedicating the tower to Nelson were located above the entrances to the tower. There again, perhaps Paxton simply had more money than sense.

On the following Monday, there on the front page of the newspaper was a shot of the same old moon, but this time rising over the Olympic torch and flame at the National Stadium in Beijing. I was instantly taken with the juxtaposition. By chance, on Thursday night I caught just a bit of a Five documentary called Megastructures, all about the building of the stadium which hosts the main track and field events at the Games, and nicknamed "the bird's nest" because of its steel lattice design.

     What an astonishingly complicated design and build. In truth, this is a classic folly, built at extraordinary cost to satisfy ego and vanity - two of the evils associated with politics and power - and something that will probably only be used to full effect for just this one event. The stadium cost at least £266 million - or, get this, 19 tonnes of 24c gold. I love that relative valuation of the cost. Move over Goldfinger. There again, perhaps the Chinese simply have more money than sense. Whatever, I see the moon, the moon sees me...

31st July, 2008

A traditional Welsh lullaby...


Modern version...

Gee, geffyl bach, yn cario ni'n dau,
Dros y mynydd i hela cnau;
Dwr yn yr afon a'r cerrig yn slic,
Cwympo ni'n dau, wel dyna i chi dric!

Gee up, little horse, carrying us two,
Over the mountain to gather nuts;
Water in the river, the stones are slippery,
We both fall down, well what a trick!


Gee up, little pony, carry we two,
Over the mountain to meet Dr Who;
Daleks about, those buggers are slick,
Exterminate, exterminate - rotten old trick!


I'm never sure whether it's the right side of my brain that sorts out the wheat from the chaff - or if it's the left side that's always right. When I saw this Tandem Club sign, the right said, 'Hm: Daisy, Daisy, you'll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle made for two.' Then the right brain suggested that it might be something like dogging - you know, where people gather to watch others having sex - except that this is to do with couples doing it doggy fashion, and they've formed a club. Then a voice behind, having clearly read my confusion as I stared at the notice, enlightened me: "Horses," he said, "something like a Pony & Trap Club, they're gathering over at Newton House, later today." Silly me - Newton House here I come.

Early Sunday morning, July 27th, I wander across Dinefwr Park for Newton House. It's a stunning morning, just me and the birds and the bees ... there's a pair of sunglasses on the ground, probably dropped by a child, so I stick them on some flowers to capture a reflected image of Newton House (top right). I'm joined by some White Park Cattle calves, as always, incredibly nosey. One of the calves sticks her nose into my lens ... I capture an aye-eye, somewhat offbeat shot (above). Later, I establish there's a Tandem Drive from Newton House to the village of Salem, a few miles to the north of Llandeilo. I also learn that two horses side by side is known as a pair, one in front of the other is a tandem, and three in line a random. Around noon, I capture some shots, the one above, right, leaving Newton House, with Dinefwr Castle in the background - and here, alongside, the same tandem as it pauses at the entrance to Dinefwr Park and Castle. More tandems coming up...

There were six tandems all told - five featured here. Sadly, I missed the sixth after slinking into the Crazy Horsepower Saloon for a quick pint. Typical.
     I am not a horsy person as such, but I have to say they looked great as they glided past. Very handsome - as opposed to very hansom, which is a two-wheeled one-horse carriage with a fixed hood. See, every day a day at school. Anyway, well done them. The pity was that the tandems were always going away from the sun, meaning faces of people and horses were inevitably in shadow - unlike the image alongside...
     Yes, hang about, I here you ask, what is this alongside? Well, I couldn't resist it when I noticed these two bits of kit parked neatly behind each other - and I feel an attack of Captionitis: Not so much a pair of gee-gees in tandem i.e. horse power - but a couple of GMGee-Gees in tow i.e. horsepower. Boom boom!

13th July, 2008 (addendum 15/07/08 + middle-ee-dum-dee-dum-dee-dum 14/07/08)

Sex and the City v Sex and the Country - Round 1

"You keep away from those bright City lights and all the achyfi  that goes on there," my Mum had warned. What precisely she would have made of Briton Max Mosley and his alleged participation in a sadomasochistic 'Nazi orgy', not to mention American Thomas Beattie, 34, who shot to fame as the first man to get pregnant - and has just given birth to a baby daughter - doesn't bear thinking about.

     And here he/she is, pictured alongside with wife, Nancy, eight months into the pregnancy. Beattie, from Round the Bend, Oregon - no, musn't jest and go for cheap laughs, he's actually from Bend, Oregon - was born a woman, indeed she competed for Miss Teen Hawaii prior to his transition.

God, this stuff really does get complicated. When she underwent her transgendering thingy, at age 24, Thomas chose to keep her female reproductive organs, although to become legally a man he had chest reconstruction and testosterone therapy - hence the beard, I guess. So, while Thomas Beattie is cosmetically a man, biologically she is a woman, and still capable of female reproduction. Apparently, wife Nancy was unable to get pregnant because she'd had a hysterectomy, so she claims to have inseminated him using sperm from the Lone Ranger - sorry, an anonymous donor (Who was that masked prick?").

     "She will be daddy's little princess," said Mr Beattie, who described himself as a tomboy when growing up. The happy event was announced a week or so ago. "It's a girl," which, as The Times pointed out, is more than you can say for mum, adding, "We could call her Guy, after her mother.".

Which brings me back to this Sex and the City v Sex and the Country thing...
middle-ee-dum-dee-dum-dee-dum - inserted 14/07/08)

Whip-a-dee-doo-dah, whip-a-dee-ay,
My, oh, my, what a sadomasochistic day.
Plenty of whippin’ comin’ my way,
Whip-a-dee-doo-dah, whip-a-dee-ay!

Madam Blue-bird’s on my buttocks,

It’s the truth, it’s “ouch’ll”

Everything is “satisfactch’ll”.

Whip-a-dee-doo-dah, whip-a-dee-ay,

Wonderful feelin', wonderful day!

* Bugger, it doesn’t quite scan – back to the whippin’ board!

Now we're all familiar with the expression AC/DC - I wrote about it on my first blog, back in March of last year - but just to refresh the parts that basic sexual shenanigans can't reach: these days though it's all AC/DC/Three Phase ... DC is direct current, meaning heterosexuality, AC is alternating current, denoting homosexuality, AC/DC is – well, a little bit of this, a dash of the other - and Three-phase, meaning AC/DC with options, from a blow-up doll to the prettiest sheep in the flock - via, I suppose now, the Mosley Whip-a-dee-doo-dah phase.

     In the court case currently unfolding against an 'Allo 'Allo backdrop, video footage of the 68-year-old president of the Grand Pricks (sic, or perhaps sick) circuit, shows four girls (the fifth has a camera concealed in her bra) in striped prisoner uniforms and Luftwaffe jackets, with Mosley having his bottom shaved, then a prison-style medical inspection for head lice - oh, and canings to within an inch of his Old Spice, all counted out in German: "Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier! Fünf!..." Ve have vays of makin' you come ... to your senses! Perhaps he should forget the S&M and try a bit of M&S.

Poor old Mosley. One minute it's all chequered flag, the next, oh dear, it's all chequered past. A bit of Whip-a-dee-doo-dah, and forever more and a day he'll be the Indiana Mosley of F1. Anyway, I guess what I'm getting to is that we are descended from animals, and we behave precisely like animals. The other morning, along my walk on the wild side, I came upon some really wild sex - a steer furiously having it away with the river bank. The moment was captured for posterity.

"If I tell you I have a beautiful body...
Can I hold it against you?"

"... yes ... yes ... Yes ... YES!
Bullock in middle background: "I'll have whatever he's having!"

I love the sight of the other bullocks, looking on, gobsmacked. But hang about, you're already familiar with one of my favourite sayings: believe nothing you hear, only half what you see. Incidentally, the two pictures above are totally genuine, but there's a remarkable story behind them, where potential tragedy turns into high farce that would do Indiana Mosley proud. To be continued...

Addendum: 15/07/08 ... Indiana Mosley and Mesdames Whiplash continue to make the news in an extraordinary "wellie-juju" way.

     Mosley 'begged for more' after being hit 88 times teases a headline in today's newspaper. I accept the invitation and tiptoe into the S&M parlour: "Max Mosley, the motor racing chief, begged a dominatrix who had spanked him at an alleged Nazi orgy, for more brutal punishment at their next encounter, the High Court was told. The News of the World said that the son of wartime fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley had developed an unhealthy addiction to sadomasochism spending £75,000 a year on violent orgies ... including £35,000 paid by Mr Mosley to set-up a full-time professional dominatrix, Woman A, in a secret basement flat in Chelsea, West London, for his sex parties."

     How wonderfully doolally is all that. Now I begin to understand what the late George Melly meant when he said that losing his sex drive in old age was "Like being unchained from a lunatic". With Gordon Brown's crucial Glasgow East by-erection - oops, sex on the mind - Brown's by-election coming up, The Time's brilliant Peter Brookes (alongside), joins the Mosley-Brown dots rather super- califragilisticexpialidociously. For who would bear the whips and scorns of time.

That's all for now, Folks! I shall go and lie down in a darkened room...

28th June, 2008

The joy - and sorrow - of sex ... Ffion the Fly ... The colour red

All this 'joy of sex' is a load of old bollocks,
Especially when you're just one of fifty-five bullocks
On my morning walk I regularly encounter a herd of bullocks, which are being fattened up for autumn sale. Now that I'm familiar to them, they don't rush away as soon as they catch sight of me, in fact these days they'll actually come to meet me. Often I will lean on a gate leading into the field and they crowd around in front of me. When they're all gathered together in a tight group their sexual frustrations often get the better of them, and even though they've had the mother of all snip-snaps, at a very young age, they still mount anything which moves. Instinct rules, OK!
     Despite castration, they clearly know what it's all about, but they just can't get it together, obviously. Which is a bugger beyond. Even worse, occasionally farmers will mix bullocks and heifers in the same field.
     Totally disastrous. The heifers come on heat, as they do, the bullocks'
instincts switch on, they sniff the old doo-dah - and then mount a more than willing female. Even though the penis will stick out ready for action, they get nowhere fast because the equipment isn't fit for purpose.
     In one way it's quite funny to watch them humping away like mad, with nothing happening - but it's the heifer I really feel sorry for. Once one bullock gives it all up as a lost cause, another has a go. This goes on and on and on, with the bullocks taking turns at attempting to serve the increasingly confused and frustrated heifer.
     A few years back I captured some pictures of a heifer suffering so, below left ... just look towards her rump, where you can see a bare, really sore looking patch where the bullocks have been mounting her ... in close-up, alongside...

I remember that particular heifer so well because it looked as if the poor thing was really suffering; the chase had gone on for, oh, a couple of days or so, or however long that window of opportunity lasts. I often wonder what goes on inside the minds of the bullocks as they hump away without anything happening. But more than that, what is the heifer thinking?
     It takes me back many, many moons ... along my bullocking, bollocking way through life there have been just a few occasions when I've failed to rise to the occasion (worst of all, with different females - each disastrous encounter burnt onto my hard drive, or perhaps that should read soft drive). Not only calamitous, but totally embarrassing. With a couple of the girls I got a second chance and everything worked out okay thereafter - well, of a fashion. But with the others - I can feel myself blush as I write -
the second coming never came. Worst, one of them was a real 'morning seller' - the delightful rustic expression for a woman who stands out from the crowd, the pick of the bunch - which I'd really fancied for ages. And she was dead sexy with it. And I failed. Bollocks, indeed. Fortunately, these Beecher's Brooks, where I'd come crashing down, didn't have any lasting psychological damage (I think) because I just picked myself up, dusted myself off, and entered the very next Grand National. Ah well, that's life, although I've never heard any other man admit to these shortcomings, pardon the pun, so perhaps these things only happen to me.
     Anyway, whilst on this business of sex, I recently captured a couple of flies doing what should come naturally - but again I was instantly overtaken by a bout of Captionitis.

Ffion knew that putting on the lipstick before asking Freddie to
give her a golf lesson was a big mistake, especially when he
slid up behind her....

...wrapped his strong, hairy arms gently around her waist, and
whispered seductively in her ear that the whole point of the
game was to aim for a hole-in-one every time.

Talking of lipstick, the other evening, across a crowded room, I spotted a rather handsome creature - nothing particularly unusual there - but what really drew my eye was the bright red lipstick she was sporting. It really was like a homing beacon, more so because she had generously bulbous lips anyway.
     What instantly came to mind was something I recall reading, that such bright red lipstick is the human equivalent of the bright red breast of the robin. It's a mating thing. The more obvious the attraction, the more likely to draw a better class of mate. The article then went on to explore a woman's subconscious mating display ... how one set of red lips connects to another set of red - anyway, enough of that sort of talk, this isn't Page *.
     However, the point of my raising this lipstick thing is that, just a couple of mornings after my lips-across-a-crowded-floor experience, I'm strolling past Fountain Fine Art - my favourite shop window in town - when a painting catches my eye. I glance briefly as I pass - but then, just three doors further down, I come to a full stop. I look at part of the building I'm just passing, where a new business has just opened. But it's the way it has been painted.
     I retrace my steps to Fountain Fine Art - and stare at the painting ... it's of a broken-down cottage, a charming enough painting, but it's the red content that had originally caught my eye. So on again to the new shop. And again, it's the way the red has been used to highlight the shop front.

Perfect use of lipstick in both! Which to my eye does the job brilliantly - and both just a few doors apart. The juxtaposition is wonderful. You feel like asking the painting: "And what's your name then?" "Little Gem, Hubie." And then asking the same of the shop: "Shabi Chic, sweetie."
     The painting is actually titled "
Little Gem (Pembs)", acrylic on board, by a rather talented gentleman, Andrew Douglas-Forbes. As for Shabi Chic, there's a larger-than-life character in old Llandampness, Ken Jones,
but he is known to one and all as Ken Chick. Ken is now retired from a hard working life of carpentry and building, but he has always been Ken Chick to everyone - I have been told why he got that name, but I've forgotten now. Even Ken's three children carry the Chick appendage. Very Welsh, very smiley.
     Which brings me back to
Shabi Chic. Do you suppose this is the long-forgotten French side of Ken's family?

15th June, 2008

The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve,
Lovers, to bed; 'tis almost Fairy time.
(with apologies to Shake's A Midsummer Night's Dream - 'tis the capital F in Fairy, see!)

Following my recent balloon trip, and subsequent bulletin last time out, I promised a separate piece on Dewi Roberts, Friendly Family Butcher of this Parish. What gave my balloon experience that extra special edge was Dewi flying along with us in his eye-catching solo balloon. Now the coincidental thing is that I wrote about this particular balloon over on www.lookyou.co.uk - see September 15, 2007 - when I watched it lift off one morning, and that was a misty morn as well because I couldn't clearly see who was in charge. But now it's the Fairy experience, up close and personal - so here's a little pictorial record of Dewi's jaunt...

In the picture directly above you can see just a tiny dot as he climbs through the mist, in the background, the picturesque Black Mountain. Finally, as he approaches Paxton's Tower he chooses this place as his landing spot ... throttle back ... flaps down ... pull the stick right back ... the Fairy Eagle has landed ...

Once again though I am overtaken by a bout of Captionitis ... I know Dewi will forgive me, for I just have to both exercise and exorcise my childish gene...

The Lord is my shepherd, I did not crash-land

No nasty surprises back there? Check!

Finally, just a week or so after my own balloon trip, I was out on my regular early morning walk when David took off on another trip. I captured the above rather agreeable shots as he floated over. But then, whilst I was trying to line up some foxgloves for an unusual shot, what should appear in front of me...

...but a bee - which rather took me by surprise, hence being slightly out of focus. By the second shot I'd managed to get it in focus. Seeing it hovering there, with the balloon floating in the background, reminds me of that quote about the bumblebee: The laws of aerodynamics prove that the bumblebee should be incapable of flight, as it does not have the capacity in terms of wing size or beat per second to achieve flight, however the bumblebee does not know this so it flies.

5th June, 2008

Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea-cosy in the sky.
(with apologies to the ghost of Lewis Carroll)

One of the wisest slices of advice one of my mothers ever handed on - oh, I should explain: I've only ever had one proper mother, but along the way there have been one or two ladies, mothers of girlfriends, who treated me more like a son than a potential son-in-law, which perhaps explains why their daughters got cheesed off with it all - and why I've remained on the shelf ever since, probably now past my sell-by date, but not quite yet the use-by one. Anyway, the wisdom: always make a point of striking up conversations with strangers, whether that be in a pub, on a train, along a country walk - anywhere, really. Yes, okay, I might be rebuffed, find it difficult to converse, find it easy to converse but the conversation goes nowhere - but suddenly, the tenth person I say hello to - bingo! Serendipity. Try it. You will be endlessly taken aback where that tenth conversation and contact eventually leads you.

If there had been no controversial gas pipeline passing this way, then I wouldn't have gone for a balloon jaunt last Saturday. A balloon trip was something noted on my brain's Things To Do list. As is watching a Space Shuttle launch - ever since I read that when the shuttle clears the launch tower it is already travelling at 100mph. Pause there and ponder ... I mean, the weight of the whole shebang, about 2,250 tons ... from a standing start it is already clocking a ton within its own length. Now that's what I call power. Follow that shuttle, cock - or Mr Clarkson, as I should call him. However, unless Uncles Ernie or Camelot come up trumps I'm unlikely to witness it. I've done all the travelling I want - I don't even have a current passport anymore. I'm content in my own little square mile.

David Smith, pilot of our tea-cosy!
(captured after landing, with the recovery team in attendance)

But back with the balloon trip. Yes, okay, I'll get round to sorting something out tomorrow. Story of my life. Perhaps the indifference induced by the fact that I've held a fixed-wing pilot's licence (lapsed), and during that time took many local people for a spin around the Llandeilo area. Anyway, as I've mentioned on Follow the pipeline, on my daily walk I've regularly watched balloons climb away from Birdshill Farm, but never really thought to do something about it. Typical Hubie behaviour. Pasado mañana (the day after tomorrow)! Then I suddenly began to wonder if the folk who live on the Birdshill had any photographs of the pipeline track I could use for my web site...

Now I had no idea who lived at Birdshill, so one day I do a variation on the advice about approaching complete strangers, and wander onto their property, see a lady tending a flower bed ... "Hello!" And there began a most unexpected and agreeable amity with Heather and David Smith - or Dennis as I christened him when we next made contact. "Just call me Dai Balloon!" he advised, "easy to remember."

So one thing led to another, and here I am on a still, delightfully misty May morn, ready to flirt with the angels. Here, pictured alongside, my fellow passengers. Front left, David Walters, the flight a birthday treat; behind David, in the flat cap, local farmer Arwyn Evans, on whose land David landed after filming a ballooning sequence for Trevor Fishlock's TV series; front, right, Arwyn's pal, Eurig; behind, Dai and Liz Jones, enjoying a flight bought as a Christmas present by the children (I think). Hiding in the back, David, the pilot.

Oh, nearly forgot. That's me behind the camera. Handsome bugger, even if I say so myself. Anyway, typical Hubie once more, I've started my pictorial record at the very end - so let's rewind and start at the very beginning...

All hands on board, again taken just after landing

The Big Red Bird is prepared for launch in a rather romantic mist, but the sky directly above is invitingly blue, with the rising sun working hard to burn away the mist. Next along, Dewi Roberts takes off in his solo balloon - I shall do a separate little piece on Dewi's unusual adventure. The burner is fired as we lift off. A tip for anyone going on a balloon flight who, especially like me, is a bit thin on top: wear something to cover your head. The heat from the flame is most intense - only in short bursts, of course. Most frustrating as I had a flat cap in the car.

The very wise Arwyn, sporting the farmer's traditional head wear, captures the stunning view. The Towy Valley floor is a thick carpet of mist. The middle shot looks east, Llandeilo rearing up out of the mist like the good Welsh Cob stallion it is, and on the horizon the Black Mountain with the Brecon Beacons beyond. The end shot takes in the Cambrian Mountains and mid Wales.

The ruins of Dryslwyn Castle hang on for dear life. Next, Dewi is seen approaching Paxton's Tower, feet touch terra firma, and the Fairy Eagle has landed. David now looks for a suitable spot to put the Big Red Bird down. For a perfect flight the ideal wind speed at ground level is between 4 & 8 mph, which ensures a reasonable travel distance, combined with a gentle landing (the maximum ground speed to ensure a reasonable landing is around 10 to 15 mph). This morning we have flown in pretty much perfect conditions: wind at ground level, NE at 6-8 mph, at 2,000 feet, NNE at 4mph. David now aims for a spot somewhere behind Paxton's Tower but before the Botanic Garden - even more shelter from the already gentle north easterly. It is the gentlest of landings, one little bounce, no toppling over. Perfect. I then take some shots of the balloon deflating... 

Wonderful pictures: the red of the balloon against a glorious blue sky - and the green, green grass of home beneath. In that middle shot, I half expect football's World Cup Jules Rimet Trophy to be unveiled. I love these shots, very elegant - and David's there in his red jacket. A memorable trip. Meanwhile, I've been overtaken by a burst of Captionitis - I trust the two Davids forgive me and excuse this childish gene of mine surfacing yet again...

 Look, over there, I'm positive a UFO has just landed

 Hello? ... Doctor Who? ... I think you should come quick

This is the first time I've seen the famous Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, in the flesh, so to speak, and it really does look as if a huge spaceship has touched down. Any moment I expect to see ET zooming up over the brow, on his bike.

It was Anon who said that friends are kisses blown to us by angels, although Mae West balanced the books when she declared "I'm no angel, but I've spread my wings a bit.". Imagine then, you have drifted among the angels, you land, and discover that one of the recovery team is called Heaven. Talk about a fitting end to a perfect flight of fancy. 

And there's Heaven, on her knees, poor thing. There's no justice in this old world. In the middle photo we are joined by the lady in the light blue jeans and her two collie dogs, whose land we have touched down on. It turns out that she and Heaven know each other - I think they work in the same place. Small world. You really can't move in this part of the world - which is rather nice.

So what a memorable experience. Totally different to an aircraft ... the peace and quiet, so relaxing ... the ability to float down really low where disturbance to stock is not an issue. But perhaps what most struck me was the realisation what an amazing part of the world I live in. We take off, and there's Llandeilo, that wonderfully frisky, one-horse town rising out of the mist. Then comes Dinefwr Park and Castle, Newton House, the Lost Garden of Aberglasney drifts lazily beneath us; and look, there's Pentre-Davis Farm - where, I hear you say - well, this is home to one of the early members of the Hole in the Head Gang, who rode these badlands territories more moons ago than I care to remember; next up (or should that be next down?), Dryslwyn Castle, then climbing towards Paxton's Tower, round the corner and there's that amazing glasshouse of the National Botanic Garden at Llanarthne. And all that in seventy glorious minutes (around five or so crow-miles), floating along without a wing or a prayer.

You'd be a fool not to fly in the safe hands of Llandeilo's very own Dai Balloon. And experience life in the high lane.

With thanks to Heather and David Smith, Birdshill Farm, Llandeilo (not forgetting the ground crew).

20th May, 2008

The things you see when you're carrying a camera

Larry the Lamb had grown weary of the lads continually
reminding him of what the actress had said to the Bishop:

"With balls like that you should
have been a Canon."

I have to say that I've never seen a pair of balls like that before - relatively speaking, of course. Yes, I've seen them on a bull, but never a ram, let alone a young lamb. I really did blink. Sadly, the pictures aren't perfect quality. I rarely pass through this particular flock, which meant that every time I tried to get close to Larry, the flock would move away, so I had to use maximum zoom in not perfect conditions. I gave up chasing after the flock because I felt sorry for Larry with those balls violently swinging between his legs. Poor thing, whatever his problem. Mind you, his balls must have been packed to the gunnels with testosterone because he kept trying to mount everything that moved, including, as shown alongside, another young male. In truth, all young male lambs behave like this. They play at fighting, and regularly indulge in what Larry, alongside, is doing. But once they're up there: "UM?" Their instincts are firing on all cylinders from the word go, but their brains, cleverly, take a while yet to catch up. Meanwhile, a moment from the pipeline project...

Whenever he went to the toilet, old Reg - 'Hen Rhech' in
Welsh - was pissed off with everyone treating him like the gorilla
in that air-freshener ad - so he hitched up the Crapmobile...

...and off he went in search of the perfect spot -
and where better than in the shade of the old oak tree;
it was a breath of fresh air, Reg would never again look back.


Exclusive pictures from deepest Welsh Wales, where the government is secretly
trialling a scheme where all white vans must be followed by a man carrying a red flag.
If successful, they will try it with the man walking in front.
It's called the 'Ten Pee in the Pound' way of doing things.

5th May, 2008

Bye, bye, narcissus - now let's look behind the mirror

Just a couple of bulletins back I recalled a slice of rural Welsh lore which insists that spring has not truly sprung until the last daffodil has withered away and died. Hey ho, it is borne out yet again. Yes, you'll still see the odd daffodil challenging the rule, but they are pretty much gone now - and hey presto, there's been an explosion of spring life with its vibrant colours all over the shop. It has been a most curious spring: despite the opening months of the year threatening another record-breaking warm start to things, April was a thoroughly cold, wet and grey month - but statistically, a completely normal month, average in every way. But a warmer May has arrived, so coming up, some smiley spring images, just captured on my little patch...

She forgets me... She forgets me not...

She had better not forget me...

A perfect barometer of spring is the bluebell. As I reported over on Look You at the back end of February, I spot my first bluebell (which I fondly refer to as Solitaire) at a particular secluded and south-facing woodland spot, anywhere between March 23 and 30 - except for the late, cold spring of 2006 when it didn't make its grand entrance until April 8. But this year, astonishingly, there it was on February 28. This time though, that first bluebell was not in the usual spot - so I carefully stepped forward to photograph it ... then I stepped back - and horror upon horror, I trampled all over a bluebell I simply hadn't noticed (alongside). I'd rather not contemplate that I had actually (whisper it) stepped on, and broken, Solitaire - although the woodlouse escaped by a whisker!
     Anyway, the thing is, normally within about three weeks of spotting my first bluebells, I am always overwhelmed by the notion that blue and green should always be seen. But this year, while bluebells did appear by fits and starts throughout March and April, it took an unbelievable nine weeks for the explosion to arrive - see below. Mind you, it has extended the bluebell season no end.
     The thing about bluebells though is how much of a challenge they are to photograph. And by that I mean the colour. It's really difficult to capture accurately. But the truth is the colour of anything is determined by what parts of the colour spectrum are reflected back. In different light, especially bright sunshine, bluebells look different anyway.

"They shut the road through the woods..."
                                                  Rudyard Kipling

A very rare thing...
A viewfinder full of strictly bluebells

The trees have also been slow to come into leaf following the cool, wet April, but now they are beginning to look delightful in their brilliant shades of green - in its own way as beautiful as an autumn show.

ME AND MY SHADOW: the famous beech trees of
Dinefwr Park prepare to break out of their buds

BEECH BUM: in the morning sun, a juvenile wasp (?) squats
on a beech tree thumbnail as the leaves spring into life

A small sycamore tree comes alive in a bluebell wood

An oak tree bursts into colourful life

Yep, summer will be with us before we know where we are...

19th April, 2008

Weight and sea
(subtitled: few things in life are quite what they seam)

The Times
does a Feedback column, where readers are invited to query, complain or indeed praise anything that has appeared in the paper; a lady called Sally Baker performs her weekly aria with great gusto, and a few of the more intriguing issues raised make it into her weekly column. I crept in under the radar once upon a time when I enquired if a front page photograph of a partial eclipse of the sun by the moon - on the 29th March 2006 - taken from Southampton (shown here alongside), and captured by Simon Czapp of Solent News & Photo agency, had been manipulated i.e. had the bird been added afterwards?
     Paul Sanders, Picture Editor at The Times, e-mailed me a most agreeable response, together with the image uncropped
. I quote part of his reply: "I have a strict policy of allowing no digital manipulation of images outside of what is reasonably possible to make the image look better. This would include minor colour cast alterations, contrast and of course cropping. No image that appears in The Times has been altered in any way as to affect the editorial content of the image. All the photographers that supply The Times with images are 100 percent aware of this policy and adhere to it strictly - they would be struck off our list of photographers should they contravene this rule ... The issue is something I feel incredibly strongly about and under no circumstances would I compromise my stance on this matter."
     The other day I again contacted Feedback wondering why I couldn't find any e-mail address or telephone contact number should someone like me come up with a hot story or a lucky photo. I was surprised to be told this by Sally: 
"I'm sorry to say that it is the case that we use only professional photographers for the great majority of our material. Have you seen the 'Citizen Traveller' photo competition on p3 of the Travel section on Saturdays though? That might be of interest to you."
     Unfortunately, as I point out above in
First time her?
(More) my photographs are never going to be technically good enough to win competitions, mainly because I'm only drawn towards those images that make me smile rather than sigh with admiration. When I enter a room and catch sight of a handsome lady across a crowded floor, all I see is the face because it tells me pretty much everything I need to know about her genetic make up. It is of no consequence whether she bought her clothes at Oxfam or Topshop. Same with a photograph. All I see is the 'face' of the image. If I get all technical with type of lens, shutter speed, aperture - I could well end up not seeing the face for the cosmetics.

"The mystery of a picture is part of its intrigue" LUCIEN MOOLENAAR

(?) Medieval Morse Code: Help! Come quick. Castle under siege (?)

Now what on earth do you suppose I've captured above? I'm not talking about Dinefwr Castle itself, perched up there on its rocky outcrop. All I'll say right now is that there has been no diggery pokery, no digital manipulation, apart from a bit of cropping - oh, and the image has been darkened significantly to highlight what draws the eye to the 'facial features' of the picture. Truth to tell, I would never have guessed in a million years what's been captured - but perhaps you're a pro and got it right away. If so, well done. Anyway, it's a photograph that sums up perfectly what seduces my curiosity. Answer to the mystery coming up. In the meantime, below, yet another picture which really tickled that little ole i-spot of mine - my imagination spot - when it manifested itself in front of me.

Delight is limited only by your imagination


When I saw this quite large but incredibly messy warning sign hanging on some railings, I smiled and smiled. Intriguingly, the right half of my brain said: "Goodness, imagine painting this and then hanging it straight off for the paint to run and run." However, the left half of my brain said: "Wellie juju, imagine painting this and then hanging it straight off for the paint to run and run - and as a consequence guarantee that it does precisely what it says on the tin, namely draw the attention of the passer-by in a positively negative way." Yes, as ever, the left side of my brain is always right.

Right! The answer to the curious case of the lights that barked in the dark...

Now isn't that just magical. It was a cold, frosty morning, and I noticed that the rime frost on a length of stock fence was melting in the early sunshine, and of course the sun is reflecting off the water droplets. The castle would be about a mile away from the wire, but by stepping back from the wire I used the zoom to bring the castle and its surrounding woods nearer, which also made the whole image much darker. See what happens when you just stand and stare.

Oh yes, the left side of my brain has just told the right side of my brain that the headline at the top of this bulletin should read...

Wait and see
(and never trust the spellchecker on your computer, it seems)

12th April, 2008 (addendum 13th April)

The Editor
Sir, Having just retired from the Royal Navy, me and the bosun (the good lady wife), have purchased a little cottage in Welsh Wales and treated ourselves to a swimming pool in anticipation of the glorious weather promised in the wake of global warming. Last week, April 4 to be precise, you did a feature headlined 'Spring has sprung', yet two days later the place was a veritable winter wonderland. What is going on here?
PS. You will be pleased to know that I hope shortly to be able to 'speak the two spokes' - and communicate with the natives with aplomb.
Yours, etc.,
The Confused Commander (retd), Primrose Cottage, Bluebell Lane, Llandampness, Land of the Narcissus (also known as The Land of the Daffodil)
Y Comander Cymysglyd (ymddeol), Bwythyn y Briallen, Lôn Clychau'r Gog, Llangwlybaniaeth, Gwlad Croeso'r Gwanwyn (neu Gwlad y Genhinen Bedr)

Dear Confused Commander
The wonderful thing about this country is its unexpected weather patterns. Anyone who moves away from the UK simply because of the weather has no empathy with Mother Nature or the majesty and beauty of her seasons. No, we don't quite have all the seasons in one day, but it does occasionally seem that we can experience them all over a period of a few days. For example, Thursday, April 3, delivered an astonishingly beautiful spring day, temperatures in parts of Wales flirted with 70˚. Then, as you rightly point out, come Sunday and it was bitterly cold with snow all over the shop. Below, I show some images captured over recent days, the date confirmed on each photo. I shall split them in line with your title and address.
Best wishes for your new home,

Confused Commander - spring had sprung,
but suffered a hiccup

Primrose Cottage

Bluebell Lane

Land of the Daffodil!

However, the shots that best sum up this delightfully doolally weather are these, taken at the Oxbow lake, Dinefwr Park ...

Finally, as a parting thought, a slice of rural lore: spring has not truly sprung until the final daffodil has withered away.
That's all Commander!

4th April, 2008

Spring has sprung -

Oh, mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey;
A kiddley divey too, wouldn't chew.

If the words sound queer and funny to your ear,
A little bit jumbled and jivey,

"Oh, daisies do and daffies don't and little lambs look lively;
A kindly swan or two, wellie juju!

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do!
I'm half crazy, all for the love of you!

It will be a stylish marriage -
And the bridesmaids are ready and waiting on the lawn...

Yes, I know you share your name with Narcissus, the Greek youth who
fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and pinned away -
but you're not supposed to outshine the bride!

Ah, it were lovely - there weren't a dry eye in the house

And they all lived happily ever after - well, at least until global warming arrived with a vengeance.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...


Twin lambs by Sallie Wakley out of Fountain Fine Art

Twin lambs by Nogood Ramboyo out of Farmer ap MucDonald's field

Look, it's called the hokey cokey and it's dead simple:
You stick your left foot out...

Talking of Narcissus:
Mirror, mirror on the floor...

That's all Folks!

30th March, 2008

Easter bunnies, cute chicks, nature v nurture, hold the front page...

Easter bunnies

Owing to a glitch on the thingamabob that uploads my stuff onto the web, my Easter message is running a few days late. The most eye-catching sight around Dodgy City over the Easter break was again in that window I'm not supposed to look at owing to my raised blood pressure, the Wellie-Juju shop, Bellissimo - but, hey, it made me smile, and what does it say up there at the top of the page?

What actually caught my eye were the bunnies and how generously proportioned they are. Whatever happened to those size zero bunnies? Mind you, I'm not sure about the legs. But what really made the headlines over the Easter weekend was the young lady alongside.
   The latest initiative to drag beauty contests kicking and screaming into the 21st century is the success of Chloe Marshall in making it to the Miss England final in July. She's rather handsome, very tall - eyes, teeth and hair made in heaven - but she is also size 16, and
weighs in at 12st 8lb (the size 16 is lost on me, but that's pretty much my weight, and I'm 6'). Oh, she's a generous 38DD bust.
   Chloe is the first plus-size entrant to reach the final, so well done her. Chloe wins my 2008 Easter Bunny vote. A bit of 'gafel', as we say here in Welsh Wales - a bit of substance to hold on to. Mind you, when it comes to the final, my money is on a blonde chick with an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny waist that conforms with the default position of beauty contests past.

Talking of chicks and Easter and things...

"That Nogood Rooster Boyo is never around when I want him"
(caught on her eggs in the window of In Stitches)

"All I want is my Mammy"
(found squatting in
eve’s toy shop)

Nature v nurture

Rime frost along the banks of the River Towy, Llandeilo

Shop window decoration at Nigel Williams, Pharmacy, Llandeilo

Hold the front page

I was asked the other day if I ever get bored with life in Dodgy City. Nope. Life out here in the sticks, somewhere west of the Pecos - or the Black Mountain as it is sometimes known - can be a laugh a minute, often two laughs a minute. If the local characters don't keep me amused, then reading the endlessly entertaining local papers certainly does. Both these posters appeared outside Spar just a couple of weeks ago. The thing is, you don't really want to know anymore regarding these tales, just allow your imagination to go walkies.
The one point I would make about the 'pub brawl' is that these things often unfold because obscenities are now part and parcel of common or garden conversation, pardon the pun. Brawls or fights never just happen, there's a build up, perhaps an argument, or a bit of leg-pulling which gets out of hand. In the good old days, if the landlord at the Crazy Horse suddenly heard some effin' and blindin' he knew trouble was brewing, then he would step in to sort it out and nip it in the bud. A yellow alert, if you like. But today, that safety valve has gone, and it's straight into shemozzle mode. They don't even give us the time to dive under the tables in good old wild west fashion. Shame.

12th March, 2008

If a picture paints a thousand words...
(or, an object lesson in subliminality)

Over the past week a couple of news photographs captured my attention; one of them unwittingly links back to my last contribution, in particular the St David's Day item and the flag of St David featured thereon. But first, a letter from The Times of March 1st - important to maintain the St David's Day link, you understand - a tail-gunner effort from a David King of Worthing, rounding off a series of letters about the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, and what should occupy it: "Sir, I suggest that we put a nice red dragon at the vacant Trafalgar Square spot. Then we would have a Plinth of Wales." Ho, ho, ho, very good.

But back to the pictures. It is quite amazing the subliminal effect a telling photograph has on our thinking. For example...

Friday, 22 February 2008: The Western Mail  breaks a story on its Page 3 under the headline 'No one else involved' as Bishop of St Davids parts from wife of 25 years. It goes on to say that the Bishop of St Davids, the Rt Rev Carl Cooper, and wife Joy, were experiencing difficulties in their relationship. The story is accompanied by a photo of a pensive-looking Bishop strolling in some flower-lit grounds. So far so strictly nudge - but nothing more is heard until...

Wednesday, 5 March: The Western Mail  now carries a front page story under the headline Wife-split bishop faces scandal probe call. It explains that two vicars have called for the Bishop of St Davids to face an investigation to establish whether he has given "just cause for scandal" after announcing he was separating from his wife. A discreet head and shoulders photo of the Bishop accompanies the piece. "Just cause for scandal", eh? What a quaint expression - but that now makes the story rather

Thursday, 6 March: Nothing in the Western Mail, but The Times  and other London papers run with the story - and this photograph explodes onto the page. The Times  explains that two of the Bishop's own vicars have called for the enquiry after rumours linking him to the Rev Mandy - unfairly, the name Rice-Davies flashes through my mind - but it's the Rev Mandy Williams-Potter, the Bishop's chaplain and communications officer, which suggests that he may have been less than forthcoming about his private life. Mrs Williams-Potter, who is married to a teacher, says they are just good friends.
Nudge-nudge, wink -

Friday, 7 March: The Western Mail  now carries the above photo under the headline 'The two marital breakdowns are tragically coincidental and not connected in any way'. The story goes on to explain that on Thursday, the Rev Mandy Williams-Potter revealed that she is to separate from her husband, stating "I am not in an inappropriate relationship with Bishop Carl". Down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, we discuss the story, in particular the photo. "I bet you wished you'd taken that picture," the Sundance Kid gleefully tells me. I smile and nod. But of course the photo is without doubt an 'old' one, probably taken when she started the job. And what a delightful shot it is. But, on Thursday 6 March 2008, those naughty London papers managed to dig up the telling photo, the rules instantly changed - and all bets were off, so to speak. Suddenly, the story is very
nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

Saturday, 8 March: The Western Mail  again carries the photo (where the eyes have it) under the headline Church is likely to hold investigation into private life of Bishop of St Davids. We are told that the Archbishop, Dr Barry Morgan, is consulting those affected. And there the story goes low profile until today...

Wednesday, 12 March: The Western Mail  carries a front page headline 'Inquiry' bishop on leave of absence - with a discreet head and shoulders photo only. So there we have it, from nudge to nudge-nudge, wink-wink, know what I mean, chief? - and all on the maxim that a picture paints a thousand words...

Oh Danny boy, the pints, the pints are calling...
(headline compliments of The Times)

On Wednesday evening of last week, fully 63 hours before he is due on the pitch at Murrayfield to earn his first full rugby cap for England, young Danny Cipriani travels to a club in Mayfair, steps inside for just a few minutes to hand some tickets to a friend, doesn't stop for a drink, gets photographed coming out - left - and finds himself ejected from the team with a telling shake of the head by coach Brian Ashton.

There goes that picture painting a thousand words again. When folk are three sheets in the wind, their mouths tend to become flytraps. But the thing is, whenever I've watched Cipriani play, his mouth is invariably open, which suggests a default setting. I know nothing of his background, but clearly his mum never told him to open his mouth only to speak or shove food into - oh, and kiss a lady he perceives as something pert and saucy i.e. a Cheeky girl.

And critically his dress mode suggests that he has indeed had a night on the tiles - but fashion today dictates that you look as if you've been dragged through a hedge backwards when you leave the house, let alone return home.

And the moral of the whole shebang? Yes, of course: Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see!

5th March, 2008

On days like these: Saint David's Day & Mothering Sunday
Strolling through Llandeilo last Saturday, Saint David's Day, I enjoyed this nice touch at Nice Price News. The Red Dragon, of course, is well established as the national flag of Wales. Less well known is the flag of Saint David, the flag of the patron saint of Wales - which is itself quite striking. Amidst a plethora of flags and crosses, it would undoubtedly draw the eye. The cross is occasionally used as an alternative to the Red Dragon, but it's mostly seen on Saint David's Day.

   As Wales is not actually represented on the Union Flag - the national flag of the UK - there have been calls to incorporate something Welsh on the flag. Bearing in mind that it is essential for the Union Jack to retain its traditional impact - a Dragon would distract, surely - then incorporating the gold of the Saint David flag with the red (of the dragon!) - as below - strikes me as a rather wonderful compromise.

Where would we be without a sense of fun? As opposed to a sense of humour, that is. Humour is very subjective: one person’s humour is often another person’s poison. But a sense of fun is universal. So I love the way individuals use a touch of fun to fight back against the deadly earnestness of the greedy multinationals, not to mention the politicians and councils who pander to their every whim, especially at the expense of small businesses. There’s a shop in Llandeilo called Bellissimo – I call it the Wellie Juju shop (wel-i-jiw-jiw to you who speak the two spokes) - for it specialises in ladies’ sexy underwear and things.

   Now a few years ago the local doctor’s surgery called me in for a routine MOT, and much to everyone’s surprise, including my own, I was found to suffer from slightly raised blood pressure, so for the first time in my life I was told to “keep taking the tablets”. “Also, beware naughty but nice things,” added the Doc, with a twinkle in his eye (I think), “’cause you don’t want to encourage that blood pressure of yours.” So every time I pass Bellissimo, I look away now. However, given the incorrigibly smiley way they decorated their window for Mother’s Day, what with apron, mop, duster and rubber gloves, I couldn’t stop myself standing and staring and smiling. Oh, and I really like daft-o-dildos – oops, I mean daffodils. So excuse me, I now have to go and lie down in a darkened room for a while.

So there I was this very afternoon, minding my own business on the sidewalk in old Dodgy City, when a pick-up truck pulls up alongside me. The passenger-side window slides down: "What do you call a bloke who takes pictures of women's underwear in shop windows?" It's Byron Walters, character, smallholder and postman of this 'ere parish.
   Bugger me, of all the people you don't want to catch you taking "pictures of women's underwear in shop windows", it's Byron. He's a postman, you see, and if you want to know the latest gossip, you ask a postie. Nothing gets past them. And now the whole SA19 postcode will know about my undercover work. "I was passing the other night," added Byron, "when you were taking pictures - so what do you call yourself then?" "Um," says I, "a pervert?" "Well," he said, "I'd say a linger longer linger-ie pervert..." So we had a laugh and a chat.
   Honestly, you cant move in Dodgy City without someone seeing you.
   Which leads me on to a somewhat relevant tale about Bellissimo and its linger longer linger-ie. Yet another local character is Twm Sunshine - wonderful nickname; I have no idea where the Sunshine comes from, but that's what I've always known him as. Old Twm is knocking on a bit now. So there he was, approaching Bellissimo, just a week or so after its opening. As he passed the tormenting window display - see above, sort of - he stopped, and stared silently, expressionlessly, at the view. It was a wonderful sight ... and a hundred thousand curses, I didn't have a camera on me, not even my little 'breast-pocket' one. A gloriously missed opportunity. That'll learn me! Anyway, the image is burnt onto my mind's eye. But what was Twm Sunshine thinking at that very moment? "Those were the days - and nights - my friend!"(?) Amen! Or, as they say down the Crazy Horsepower, "Ah Women!" Well, they do call them hers, as opposed to hymns. Boom boom!

23rd February, 2008

Well, have you ever stopped and wondered what makes something beautiful?
(and by definition, makes you smile?)

Whatever the truth of global warming - something though is clearly happening out there - I honestly thought I'd forgotten what it's like to experience a period of cold, frosty weather - or at least a passing cold snap that lasts more than a couple of days.
   So the past two weeks have been a bit of a lens opener, especially as  the  frost intensified from around the 15th on.  It wasn't so much the really cold

nights followed by beautiful spring-like days, but there was something else in the air - or perhaps not in the air?
   On Sunday the 17th, along my regular early morning walk, as I  approach   the   banks   of   the River Towy, I am gree
ted by the above eye-catching sight ... hedges, bushes and trees - even the grass - covered in snow, but not a snowflake in sight.

Above, a closer look at those branches proudly displaying their delicate and intricate "snowfall" - and alongside, gorse embraced by a splash of www (wonderful winter wonderland), stunningly enhanced by the delicate yellow of its flower.
   Incidentally, there's an old country saying: "When gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion."  So here's lookin' at you, kid.
   Anyway, what's going on with all the snow? Well, here I'm indebted to one Paul Simons, who pens an endlessly fascinating daily column in The Times called Weather Eye. This is what  he  had to  say  last  Thursday:
   "Some parts of Britain have woken up this week to a landscape covered in what looked like icing sugar. This was rime frost - a white, feathery frost that forms on very cold, foggy nights. Tiny droplets of water in the fog instantly turn to ice on any freezing cold object  they  touch,  and  build  up

into a thick layer of white frost."
   As it states over on Look You: "Every day a day at school, look you."
   Intriguingly, we didn't have fog as such on that particular night, but a mist regularly rises over the Towy, confirmed by the fact that the glorious images shown here were witnessed only along the banks of the river.
Meanwhile, below, I was busily trying to capture a gorse bush, when a flight of Canada geese passed over: click!
   And alongside, nothing of particular note regarding the leaves, but mention of flight, it's the jet con-trail wot caught my eye - one of the UK's Atlantic air lanes passes right over Llandeilo, yet I hardly caught sight of con-trails as the cold weather intensified.
   But in this instance I guess what's happening up there at 37,000 feet is clearly what's also happening down here at 7 feet.

The settled weather has given us some glorious sunsets. Now my mother was probably frightened by a lark, rather than an owl (I'm ready to go to bed after the Six O'clock News), so being a person drawn towards the dawn, I don't normally do sunsets - but I've made an exception this time around.
   Actually, I even got a photo on Derek's weather forecast on the BBC's early afternoon news slot, one of those below. These were taken from Dinefwr Castle,  looking down the Towy Valley towards the market town  of

Carmarthen, with Paxton's Tower - or Paxton's Folly - at Llanarthne, on the horizon. What makes them so smiley is watching the sun turn from a bright orange disc to a rich red, fuzzy ball as it sets through the haze. Quite wonderful.
   Or: "Bendigedig, haleliwia, moliant iddi byth, amen!", as we say in this 'ere part of the world (blessed, hallelujah, praise be to She for ever and ever, amen! - She  being Mother Nature, of course).

A feature of the past couple of weeks of settled weather, before even the real frost arrived, was not so much the sunrise, but the sunset, and we were treated to some spectacular examples of those.
   Below, Paxton's Tower again, this time from a different location, at some seven miles distance.

   Also, there were some wonderful twilights, the sky bathed with a surreal glow long after the sun had disappeared from view - something to do with the sun's rays being reflected by extremely high clouds of acid forming in the exceptionally cold air (-94F, -70C), up there in the stratosphere over Europe (apparently!).

So here we are then, coming up, perhaps two of my most intriguing snaps from the past two weeks: both sum up beautifully "the curious phenomenon of the sky that purred in the night".
   Over the past year I've probably stood and stared at every sunrise - which I guess explains why you'll always find me whistling a happy tune on the sunny side of the street.
   Fortunately I am able to arrange my work around those overcast and wet mornings  -  which  is  why  I do my nut when the forecasters cock-up.  Mind

you,  a walk on the wild side on a stormy day is something else: the sound of the wind whistling through the trees is one of my very favourite sounds.
   Anyway, when I can take the weather with me I leave the house about half-an-hour or so before sunrise: firstly, if there's to be a stunning sky, then it is at its most intense around 30 minutes before the sun appears; secondly, half-an-hour's walk takes me to some high ground where I can watch the sun appear and experience circa 4 minutes of plugging into nature and recharging the old batteries.

On the Monday morning of February the 18th, I leave the house as usual to go on my walk - but I stop, and gaze around me ...... the houses along the street look as if the sun is shining on them, so bright and shiny are they. I look at my watch - the only time I wear a watch is when I go walking for I still haven't learnt to use the sky and the sun as a timepiece - and I momentarily think that I've lost touch with time. But no, I'm spot on.
   I honestly can't say that I've ever experience such extraordinary clear light this early before sunrise. The following morning I set off about an hour before sunrise - the light is again unbelievably clear. I take some photos, looking towards the east, one of which is here, alongside.
   Below is one taken pretty much from the same place, but looking to the west and the evening sky. A luminous dusk refusing to let go.
   Now what makes these two photos so remarkable is that, on checking the digitalised information captured within each picture, I discover that one was taken approximately 40 minutes before sunrise, the other about 40 minutes after sunset. So what's happening here?
   Well, let's start with the sunset, and back with Paul Simons of The Times again:

"A spectacular sunset was seen over much of Britain on Monday evening. The sky blazed a vivid orange..." (see above) "...and an afterglow hung in the sky after the Sun had gone below the horizon.
   "One clue to this unforgettable sight was the dry atmosphere. Orange sunsets are much more common over deserts, and the Met Office readings revealed that the atmosphere on Monday was as dry as desert air - hence why there were no clouds or aircraft con-trails in the sky.
   "Another explanation was the cold air on the ground. Not far above that was a layer of warmer air, and this acted like a lid that trapped any air pollution on the ground. So with hardly any pollution or water in the atmosphere, there was little to interfere with the setting Sun as it blazed across the sky. Only the molecules of gas in the air itself scattered the sunlight.
   "Such a remarkable sunset is unlikely to be repeated soon, now that the atmosphere is turning much wetter as Atlantic weather sweeps in." Fascinating stuff.
   The only thing that stumps me is this: why the different light clarity at that 40 minute point on that particular Tuesday? I can only presume that the sunset view is looking "into" the weather, a fact confirmed the following day as the high pressure slowly gave way and Atlantic weather began to swim upstream.

Finally, smoke signals: the one image I was looking for was rising smoke in the still air, for as it hit the "lid" mentioned above, that should act as an invisible glass ceiling, the smoke would then spread out, something like a blanket, or a mushroom cloud, I guess - but sadly, no luck.
   By a coincidence, on Radio Cymru this very morning, BBC Wales' very own wildlife expert, Iolo Williams, mentioned that he had witnessed such a phenomenon,  but as he  was in such a  hurry he  didn't  capture  the  image,

even though he had a camera with him in the car. Iolo, Iolo, Iolo!
                  What is this life if, full of care,
                  We have no time to stand and stare?
   Has anyone out there captured such an image? I'd love to include it as part of the above.
   Anyway, what a gloriously smiley couple of weeks we've had. All I have to say to Mother Nature is this: "Please, Mum, I want some more......"

14th February, 2008

The sermon on the Mount

The Americans have their Mount Rushmore ... and very impressive it is too, especially when you register its scale against the size of the trees and the scree of debris from the construction, which somehow help focus the impressiveness of the whole project.

But we at Llandeilo have our own Mount Lovemore - albeit ephemeral - and yes, as captured in the window of Fountain Fine Art! These are Gillian Still's porcelain works of art, Valentine. I really like how they're displayed, hence Mount Lovemore.

3rd February, 2008

Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry......

It's impossible to hurriedly say the above even when sober, let alone after a few drinks - which brings me neatly onto yellow card, yellow card, red card!

The injuns - or Native Welsh to be absolutely PC - at my local watering hole have been surprisingly restless of late, so the management decided that official warnings were the order of the day. Following a bored meeting it was decided that far and away the most civilised way forward was to introduce a card system, just as they have in football - dai-rect action, so to speak. There've been no serious problems with the ap Ache (Son of a Headache, to give the English translation - Apache in America), just the typical sort of shemozzles you get in any pub when the fire is roaring and the firewater is flowing and the truth is determined to out. But I guess you have to nip these things in the Bud, or the Jack Daniels, or the whatever.

Alongside, manageress Thérèse models the cards - as you will note, not any old cards, but bloody great big cards. Which does make sense when you have to keep under control bloody great big Native Welshmen. But come on now Thérèse, stop messing about, pull yourself together, this is a very serious business. Go out the back, compose yourself......

......that's better, Thérèse, you now look the part. Actually, it's a cracking photo and gives due managerial reverence and gravity to the task at hand. Come to think of it, that striking pose reminds me of a particular actress - but I can't for the life of me think who she is......

Anyway, the yellow card has already been deployed once following a bit of a brouhaha between a couple of the local Apaches - nothing particularly messy but enough of a distraction for a quick flash. I enquired of the carded brave: "What was that all about then, Dances with Chainsaw?" He shrugged: "Something totally trivial." I shook my head rather quizzically. "He called me an arsehole." Bugger, isn't that always the case, and a molehill quickly erupts into a Mount Vesuvius.

Since I first put this little bulletin together on Saturday morning, we've had a rugby international between Wales and the old enemy, England. The drums had echoed ominously across the valley all day, and of course with Wales's rather unexpected, but ultimately emphatic, victory - best summed up in Eddie Butler's commentary: "Oh England, what have you done? And Wales, what are you doing?" - it came as no surprise to learn that after some frantic celebratory war dances around the camp fire, the yellow card has been deployed again - this time followed by a red, a hurried disciplinary committee deciding a short, sharp ban until, appropriately, St Dai's Day on March 1st. Daffodils to be worn by all for the hanging - oops, homecoming.

24th January, 2008

Poppy the smiler man

Having established that this web site, just like its twin brother Look You, is really a kind of scrapbook, the one image from the past week I instantly wanted to cut out, or paste, rather, is the first official portrait of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, just unveiled. I like it, perhaps mostly because he’s not wearing that silly grin that makes me want to slap him – and I’ve never slapped anyone in my life. But of course what really draws the eye is something else he’s wearing ... yes, the poppy. Between the Middle East peace process, the lucrative consultancy work, the mega book deal, the speaking engagements, he agreed to this oil painting, and visited artist Jonathan Yeo’s London studio in November last year. Mr Yeo said of the poppy: “Of all the things we remember Blair for, the war in Iraq is the most controversial and this particular portrait would be a bit empty without some reference to it. I was desperately racking my brains for a way of telling a bit of that story without being too trite or prosaic – when he came in wearing a poppy. It’s a nice subversion of the Labour rose, compositionally it works by counter-balancing the off-centre face – and the Old Masters always said to put a splash of red in a picture. Above all it’s instantly recognisable.” For what it's worth I really do think it’s brilliant, not so much because it prompts the default position that Blair is a warmonger, but that so many people have lost their lives, and continue to do so, because he misled the nation in cahoots with that bloody spin doctor of his, Alastair Campbell.

Old English Game Cock

"Yo, Blair!"

What also caught my eye is what Jonathan Yeo says about a splash of red in a picture. When I recently awarded my
Christmas 2007 Camera Seduction Award, I casually remarked that, rather handily, the camera finds the colour red rather seductive. Actually, I thought that observation merely reflected my personal love of the colour red, but hey! See, I’m nowhere near as daft as I look. Not so much an Old Master, more an old soldier. Well now, walking past the other Llandeilo shop window that unfailingly draws my eye, Fountain Fine Art, what do I see but – ta-rah! – a splash of red. It’s that lady Sallie Wakley again, with her ‘raku fired ceramic’ Old English Game Cock, a snip I’d say at £300. Sadly, not only do I not read books and watch films, I don't collect 'things' either, unless of course you count pals, friends and acquaintances who make me smile and laugh and count myself lucky. Oh yes, I also like the counter balance of Jonathan Yeo ‘racking my brains’ alongside Sallie Wakley’s ‘raku fired ceramic’. Little things please little minds.

PS.  I take it you noticed the deliberate mistake above. Or was it? Tony Blair, cockalorum?

17th January, 2008

Send out the clowns

Did you see that extraordinary research which came up with the idea that decorating children's hospital wards with images of clowns is likely to frighten rather than cheer young patients? A survey of more than 250 children aged between 4 and 16 found that all of them disliked clowns as part of hospital decor. Penny Curtis from the University of Sheffield, on behalf of the Space to Care study, said: "As adults we make assumptions about what works for children." I'd have thought the roll of clowns in cheering up children (of all ages) is something that has evolved over generations, centuries even. And could it be that it's the environment within those hospitals that is frightening the kids? However! Balance is everything. There's even a word for it: coulrophobia, an abnormal or exaggerated fear of clowns. It's not uncommon among children - not in ALL of them though as the above survey suggests - and it's occasionally found in teenagers and adults as well, Sufferers sometimes acquire a fear of clowns after having a bad experience with one personally, or seeing a sinister portrayal of one in the media.
Whatever, it sent me searching for a clown image. Over on Look You I've just done a piece on that infamous
fictional character Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman, VC, outstanding Victorian soldier, coward, bully, card cheat, serial fornicator, cad, bounder and hugely admired all-round bad egg - and I made the observation that I actually know a couple of real life Flashmans. Similarly, I personally know an individual who fits perfectly the image of the clown - superficially a most likeable and agreeable human being who makes me smile and laugh at his antics and the things he says, but behind the clown a really sad person lurks, an individual who makes me wince and wonder where on earth it's all leading. I then stumbled across the powerful image below, and I guess it represents perfectly the real life clown I know and like. I mean, those sad eyes......

Alongside the clown, a photograph I captured some eighteen months ago, and I remember thinking at the time - clown! This is what an animal clown must look like, the face that makes all the other sheep smile. Well, it certainly made me smile - still does ... but lurking in there is a really cheesed off looking creature. A trick of the click?

As for the image of the real clown, I can tell you nothing except that there it was, lurking on a foreign language web site, and of course I'm none the wiser. However, there seems to be a connection to a Cheryl Lavender - and that's all I know. But I shall continue to nose around just in case I can throw some light on our sad clown.

5th January, 2008

A voluptuous young mink called Saranne,
Said "I've thought of an excellent plan;
If we had a reversal,
Of what's universal,
Then I could be wearing a man."


That delightful limerick is the work of Gerald Durrell, the man who gave hope, in his own idiosyncratic ways, that there was indeed a future for plants, animals and people, as long as we all learnt to share the wonder of this living planet together; he really did attempt to educate the world on the wonder of living things and the arrogance of humanity to their survival - and by definition their own. Sadly, if the state of living things today is anything to go by his message fell on stony ground. In the above limerick he mentions the mink, and those in the front line of nature's battle for survival regard the mink as a dreadful pest. Of course it doesn't belong in this country anyway, and as with the grey squirrel, the delicate balance of nature had evolved long before these jokers were introduced into the pack. Anyway, I've seen a mink or two along the River Towy - but I've also seen otters, and I'm fairly sure that otters control mink, which is a bit of good news. Before we reach the Twelfth Day after Christmas, I'm going to return to what became my favourite Llandeilo shop windows over the Christmas festivities, those at Fountain Fine Art. I guess they must have done reasonably well (at least) as many of the exhibits regularly disappeared, which suggests things were moving. Whatever, it kept my camera quite busy. The final image I took over Christmas was the one below, the otter ... while the other, well, thereby hangs a tale...

It was during Autumnwatch on TV that Bill Oddie nearly wet his pants as he got his first ever live, close-up glimpse of an inland otter, having only seen them previously along the coast. I catch sight of them fairly regularly along the Towy. One experience was most memorable. It was back in September 2006, shortly after sunrise, I was walking along the bank when I saw them, three, seemingly playing and feeding, oblivious to the world. With no cover I simply froze, brought up my camera and clicked away. Unfortunately they were the other side of the river, and despite an adequate zoom, it was impossible to capture a worthwhile shot. All the while I kept thinking that they must be able to see me and they'll shoot off and my delight will come to a sudden end. Then something wonderful happened. One of them broke off and made a sweeping approach towards me, clearly I was in its sights - then it turned just bellow me and cruised gently past, eyeing me up all the while ... click, click, click ... then it returned to join the others - and they were gone. You never know what sort of picture you end up in a hurried situation like this, but I was delighted with the result, especially how the festive light reflects off the ceramic otter, and the sunlight reflects off the snout of the real one. I really love the contrast. Relating the tale of my 'close encounter of the real kind' with some local fishermen, they corroborate that otters are often anything but shy, in fact are inherently nosey. One was telling me that he watched an otter approach his bag in which he already had a couple of fish - and try to get into the bag. Yes, it's a wonderful world out there. I'm definitely on the side of Saranne - at least in her dream of wanting to wear a man. As you've probably guessed, I don't rate my species particularly highly in the general pecking order of things - how can we poison and destroy our environment in such a cavalier fashion? - and it's a foregone conclusion that we'll be just hapless also-rans in the Grand Universe All Comers Challenge.

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